Kirsten Johnson

Director/ Cinematographer ("Camera Person")

Kirsten Johnson, Director/ Cinematographer ("Camera Person")

Kirsten Johnson has worked as both documentary cinematographer and director committing herself to human rights issues and visual creativity. She is the principal cinematographer on over 40 feature-length documentaries and has been credited on countless others. After graduating from Brown University in 1987 with a BA in Fine Arts and Literature she travelled to Senegal to study with acclaimed filmmakers Djibril Diop Mambety and Ousmane Sembene. The experience inspired her to apply to the French National Film School (La Femis), where she began to study cinematography. While in La Femis she began to shoot the documentary Derrida, with directors Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick the earliest of Johnson’s work to appear in Cameraperson. After graduating from La Femis she went on to shoot a number of highly-acclaimed and award-winning documentaries including “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” “Fahrenheit 9/11” “This Film is Not Yet Rated” and “The Invisible War.” She has a longstanding collaboration with Oscar-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras, credited as cinematographer for “The Oath,” “Citizenfour,” the upcoming ""Asylum."" Additionally, she shot footage that appeared in Poitras' visual exhibition on surveillance, which opened at the Whitney Museum in spring 2016. In 2009 Johnson embarked on a directorial project documenting the lives of two teenagers in Afghanistan, the film was to be called “A Blind Eye.” After 3 years of shooting and cutting one of the teenagers retracted her permission to be featured and the film’s scope was reconsidered and structured around the footage that was shot, as well as footage from over 30 films Johnson had worked on over the years. Eventually this was edited into the film that became ""Cameraperson."" When not shooting she teaches the class in “Visual Thinking” at the NYU Graduate Journalism Department, a course in cinematography at SVA, and often leads workshops for young camerapeople and documentarians under the auspices of the Arab Art and Culture Fund in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.

Faculty News view all

IDA Spotlight: SocDoc Faculty Tips for New Projects
July 26, 2019

IDA Spotlight: SocDoc Faculty Tips for New Projects

One of our best jobs here at SVA's MFA in Social Documentary Program is advising our graduate students on their film ideas, helping them make their concepts strong. The idea stage can be invigorating, but successful films happen with thoughtful planning. We surveyed our esteemed faculty for suggestions on what filmmakers should consider as they embark on a new project. Read More
Now Streaming: SocDoc Alumni
May 29, 2019

Now Streaming: SocDoc Alumni

A great many SocDoc alumni films are recently streaming into the comfort of your home these days - so we compiled a list to make a TV party easy for you! Check out the work our alumni are making, and tell a friend. Read More
Spring Festivals!
April 04, 2019

Spring Festivals!

Festival season is ramping up and our prolific SocDoc alum are screening at major festivals across North America. Here’s a rundown of where SocDocers and their films are at over the next few months:  Read More
2019 Alumni Editing Fellowship
March 29, 2019

2019 Alumni Editing Fellowship

Graduates of SVA’s MFA Documentary program (Groups 1 through 8) are invited to apply for the second annual SocDoc Summer Editing Fellowship with their documentary features in post-production.

Acknowledging that emerging documenta Read More